The Ambassador of the Republic of Kenya to the United States, Lazarus Amayo, was in Minnesota Friday to launch a three-day initiative to offer consular services to citizens of the east African country residing it the state.
The outreach campaign to Kenyans seeking to apply for passports, birth certificates, and dual citizenship declarations began on Friday morning at the Kenyan Community Church in the Minneapolis suburban city of Brooklyn Center. It was followed up by a townhall-style meeting at the Maple Grove Community Center in nearby Maple Grove, with the ambassador.
“We want to be able to serve you, and that is why we are working on reducing the distance for Kenyans to get these services,” Amayo said.
Amayo said the embassy had plans to expand the outreach to citizens living in other major U.S. cities like Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston, which have the highest concentrations of Kenyans.
Before the initiative, Kenyans had to travel to either Embassy of Kenya in Washington D.C., or to the two consulate offices in Los Angeles and New York to get the services. The location of the diplomatic offices in coastal states has posed many challenges for Kenyans residing in the middle of the country. In Minnesota alone, there are more than 14,500 Kenyans, according to Minnesota Compass, an organization that does population research in the state. For those Kenyans, appointments require expensive travel, time off from work, and for many, interim childcare. With the new initiative, the embassy hopes to make consular services more accessible to all Kenyan citizens in the United States.
Tom Gitaa, the founder and publisher of Mshale, coordinated the embassy’s outreach efforts in Minnesota through the Minnesota Kenyan Association, a consortium of Kenyan groups in the state. Gitaa said the three-day satellite operation attracted Kenyans from across the Midwest, and as far as Nebraska and Kansas.
“More than 500 were able to successfully submit their applications and have their biometrics captured by the consular officers,” said Gitaa.
Lillian Otieno, the president of the Association of Kenyans in America, lauded the embassy for the new efforts to take services to the people.
“It is in unity as a Diaspora that we can orchestrate events and programs to ensure our people are assisted,” Otieno said.
Henry Momanyi, a candidate running for the West District city council seat in neighboring Brooklyn Park, said he had been working at the embassy’s pop-up office since the event began earlier that day. He urged audience members to serve and help embassy staff with coordinating the service.
“Mothers with kids wait all day to be served because there are some technical aspects that prevent the process from running smoothly, so we need more volunteers,” Momanyi said.
Onesmus Mutio, another Minnesota Kenyan, asked Kenyans to use their numbers to create awareness in their communities, and unite to advocate for increased consular representation.
“We can give so much strength to the embassy and fuel this initiative just by spreading the word and telling our relatives about it,” Mutio said.
University of Minnesota Board of Regents member Mike Kenyanya said that as efforts are being made to improve U.S.-Kenya diplomatic relations, it was important not to forget the younger generations of U.S.-born Kenyans, who tend to be primary candidates for services like dual citizenship and birth certificates of children born abroad.
“A trend I am noticing amongst my peers is that they are becoming more passionate about their home,” Kenyanya said. “I think we need to capitalize on that.”
Amayo also addressed the long wait times for passport appointments. In the early days of the pandemic, people saw delays in scheduling, and a person booking an appointment may have seen that the earliest slot was a year or more out on the calendar.
“The system has since improved, and we are able to serve you much faster now that pandemic delays have been reduced,” Amayo said. “We are here for you.”